Soil health is a complex and multidimensional concept encompassing physical, chemical, and biological aspects that contribute to the overall fertility and function of the soil. Soil science involves understanding the relationships between these aspects and how they interact to support plant growth, nutrient cycling, and other essential ecosystem processes.
Declining soil health has been observed worldwide, and intensive agricultural practices are a major factor. This decline in soil health affects not only the productivity of our agricultural systems but also the nutritional content of the food we eat, as soil health is intimately linked to plant and animal health and, ultimately, human health. Michael Pollen reminds us that we are what we eat eats too.
A key element in understanding soil health is the soil microbiome, which is composed of a diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic life forms. These organisms play essential roles in the soil food web, a complex network of interactions between various soil biota that contribute to nutrient cycling, organic matter decomposition, and disease suppression.
However, the use of synthetic fertilisers and chemicals in agriculture can disrupt the delicate balance of the soil microbiome, negatively impacting soil health. Synthetic fertilisers can lead to an overabundance of nutrients, causing imbalances in the soil food web and altering microbial communities. Over time, excessive use of fertilisers can result in soil degradation, loss of organic matter, and reduced soil biodiversity.
Similarly, the application of chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, can have detrimental effects on the soil microbiome. These chemicals can be toxic to non-target soil organisms, resulting in decreased diversity and altered community composition. Moreover, the loss of beneficial soil organisms can lead to an increase in soil-borne diseases and reduced nutrient cycling efficiency.
In the context of ‘we are what we eat eats’, it is essential to recognise that by disrupting the soil microbiome, and contributing to the decline in soil health, the use of synthetic fertilisers and chemicals has far-reaching consequences for the quality and nutrition of our food. To address this issue and promote soil health, alternative agricultural practices, including the agroecological practices of organic farming, regenerative and conservation agriculture emphasise the use of natural processes to maintain soil fertility and crop productivity.
By taking a holistic approach to soil health, we can address the challenges posed by declining soil quality and better understand the complex relationships between soil, plants, animals, and our food. This understanding can inform agricultural practices that promote a healthy soil biome, maintain ecosystem services, and ultimately support the production of nutritious, high-quality food for a growing global population.
Soil supports the growth of food, nourishes our bodies, and fuels the economy. As guardians of the soil used to grow food supplied by Earth First Food, we advocate for soil welfare and hold it as our primary stakeholder. Soil deserves respect and care, and we honor its microbial ecosystem as a vital part of our planet.